Passion stress for Bach plus two more cantata movements disguised as organ works


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On the left the rebuilt Thomas School Anno 1732. The apartment of the Bach family was on the left of the building. On the right is “a part of the Cather(ine) Street”. Zimmermann’s Café which hosted Bach’s Collegium Musicum was located in the center building labeled “2”.

Around this time in 1725, Bach was still on a break from writing cantatas (they were not to be performed in Leipzig during the 40 days before Easter), but was by no means resting. On the contrary, he was likely rather stressed out about his passion music for Good Friday 1725.

We know that on Good Friday 1725, Bach performed a revised version of his St. John Passion from 1724. We don’t know why he revised it, and some scholars such as John Elliot Gardiner even suggest that Bach had been planning to perform a St. Matthew Passion instead.*

If we could only travel back in time and find out what happened. If it was indeed Bach’s plan to perform a completely new composition, why did he not perform it until 1727? Did he simply run out of time, or did the Leipzig city council not approve of the piece? And why exactly did he revise the St. John Passion? Did he want to change it himself, or had the presentation of Jesus as victor** in the original 1724 version irked the city council?

Now for some music, related to my previous blog post, but completely unrelated to the passion stress story above:

Following up on my post from two weeks ago, there are two more cantata movements that show up in Bach’s “Schübler” organ chorales:

The fifth movement of Cantata 10 Meine Seele erhebt den Herren (live performance in the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig by alto Bogna Bartosz, tenor Jörg Dürmüller, and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Ton Koopman) disguised as organ chorale BWV 648 (Ton Koopman on the historic Müller organ (1724) of the Grote Kerk in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands) with the same title. Click on the links to watch and listen on YouTube.

Also: the second movement of Cantata 137 Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren from 1725 (violinist Margaret Faultless with all the altos of the Amsterdam Baroque Choir under the direction of Ton Koopman), transformed into organ chorale BWV 650 Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter (Bine Katrine Bryndorf on the historic organ (1724) of the Garnisons Kirke in Copenhagen, Denmark). Click on the links to listen on YouTube.

Wieneke Gorter, March 5, 2018

*In his book Music in the Castle of Heaven, John Elliot Gardiner makes a strong case that Bach might have initially planned to have the St. Matthew Passion ready for Good Friday 1725. Read this blog post to find out why that is not an unlikely scenario at all.

**Read more about this in this blog post

Cantata movements in organ works


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Title page of Schübler’s edition of six of Bach’s organ chorales based on cantata movements, known nowadays as the “Schübler Chorales.” The two last lines are instructions on where to purchase more of these: in Leipzig from Bach himself, from his sons in Berlin and Halle, and from the publisher [Schübler] in Zella.

There is no cantata for this Sunday, as no figural music was allowed in Leipzig in the 40 days before Easter, with the exception of the feast of the Annunciation (March 25).

For me this means I now finally have time to share some of what I learned during the Bach Festival in Bruges. On Friday January 26 I attended an all-day lecture by Professor Ignace Bossuyt about how Bach “reworked” his own music and the music of others in his compositions. The biggest eye-opener for me was that all Bach’s “Schübler Chorales” for organ (named after their publisher, Johann Georg Schübler) from 1747/1748 are actually arrangements of movements from Bach’s 1724/1725 cycle of cantatas I have been discussing on this blog since June 2017.

While I am not an organist at all, I did grow up in the land of organs and miss hearing them. My mother comes from a family of organists on her mother’s side. When other little boys dreamed of cars, my father dreamed of being an organist and built organ keyboards from blocks at home and would pretend to play them (sadly because of class perception his parents didn’t deem it appropriate to send him for lessons). Thus my parents were extremely picky where we went to church – there had to be a good organist. So I heard my share of Bach chorale preludes and Schübler Chorales, even before I knew what they were.

Because of the funeral service for my mother in the Kloosterkerk in The Hague I already referred to last week, I also have a soft spot for Bach’s “Schübler Chorale” BWV 645, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, because the incomparable Jan Hage (now organist at the Dom Church in Utrecht) played this at the end of the service, as we were walking out behind the coffin. This music, together with smiles of dear friends we passed by, gave me great comfort at a moment that could otherwise have been unbearable. Listen to this chorale, played by Jan Hage on that same organ of the Kloosterkerk in The Hague, here on YouTube. Another wonderful, and historically significant, performance of this chorale by Ton Koopman, on the Silbermann organ* (1714) in the Freiberg Cathedral, Germany, can be found here on YouTube. Bach and Silbermann knew each other, and Bach might have played on this organ too.

What I didn’t know until Professor Bossuyt’s lecture is that this piece of music was taken from the fourth movement of Cantata 140 with the same title. This cantata is officially not part of the 1724/1725 cycle, but in Bach’s head in 1747 it probably was. Bach wrote Cantata 140 Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme in 1731, most likely in an attempt to leave a complete chorale cantata cycle for posterity. During the chorale cantata cycle of 1724/1725, there had been no 26th or 27th Sunday after Trinity (by that time it was already Advent and it is of course no coincidence that Bach uses an Advent chorale in this cantata). Watch the tenor solo from this Cantata 140 Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme by all the tenors and baritones of the Amsterdam Baroque Choir (on a live recording conducted by Ton Koopman) here on YouTube.

I have two more beautiful examples of how Bach arranged an existing chorale cantata movements into his “Schübler Chorales”:

Bach turned the fourth movement of Cantata 93 Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten into the Schübler Chorale with the same title, BWV 647. Watch the duet from Cantata 93 by the J.S. Bach Foundation here on Youtube. Watch the Schübler chorale played by Michael Schultheis on the organ of the Basilica in Seligenstadt, Germany, here on YouTube.

The last example is from a cantata that is nowadays not considered a true chorale cantata, but if Bach used it for the Schübler chorales, we can assume that he himself did regard it as such. It is Cantata 6 Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden for Easter Monday in 1725. While I will of course discuss this entire cantata later this year, I can’t pass up the opportunity to share some beautiful singing by Dorothee Mields: watch her sing the third movement from Cantata 6 here on YouTube. Then listen here on YouTube to Dutch organist Wim van Beek play the Schübler Chorale with the same title, BWV 549, on the historic Schnitger-Hinsz organ (1740) in the Martini church in Groningen, The Netherlands.

Wieneke Gorter, February 17, 2018.

*learn more about the Silbermann organ here.

Bach’s “most beautiful cantata” connected to a dear memory


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Kloosterkerk, The Hague, The Netherlands, where Caroline Stam sang the aria from Cantata 127 during my mother’s funeral service in 2010. This church is also the site of the monthly cantata services performed by the Residentie Bach Ensembles.

What are your five favorite cantatas? This question was asked this week on Facebook by the Residentie Bach Ensembles, the choirs and orchestra of the monthly cantata services in the Kloosterkerk in The Hague, the Netherlands. A hard question to answer, and I would probably have a different top 5 every month. Visit my Facebook page to find out what my current selection is. However, Cantata 127 Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott, today’s cantata from 1725, will probably always be in that top 5. The soprano aria from this cantata is forever linked in my heart and mind with the funeral service for my mother in this same Kloosterkerk in The Hague (read a bit more about that in this post), but having carefully listened to about 120 cantatas over the past two years I am struck by how special this cantata is within Bach’s oeuvre.

I’m not alone in my appreciation of Cantata 127 Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott. Eduard van Hengel calls it an “exceptionally inspired cantata,” 19th century Bach biographer Spitta called it “perhaps the most important” cantata, and it received “the most beautiful” qualification by Arnold Schering as well as Ton Koopman.  

My favorite recording of this cantata, by … surprise, surprise … Herreweghe, can be found here on YouTube. Please support the artists and purchase the entire “Jesus deine Passion” album by Herreweghe here on Amazon. It includes all cantatas Bach ever wrote for this last Sunday before Lent*, an extremely important day for Bach. Soloists are Dorothee Mields, soprano; Jan Kobow, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass.

Find the text of Cantata 127 here, and the score here.

There are several reasons why this last Sunday before Lent, or Quinquagesima Sunday or Estomihi Sunday, was such an important day for Bach, and maybe especially in 1725:

  1. This was the day, in 1723, on which he had auditioned for his job in Leipzig, with Cantatas 22 and 23, his first performance ever for the Leipzig congregation and city council. In 1724 he would repeat the same cantatas on this same Sunday.
  2. After this Sunday, his audience (=the Leipzig congregations of the St. Thomas and St. Nicholas churches) would not hear any of his music until March 25, on the feast of the Annunciation of Mary. No figural music (only chorale singing) was allowed in the Lutheran churches in Leipzig during Lent (the approximately 40 days before Easter), with the exception of the Annunciation. In 1724 this period was 33 days, but in 1725 it was 41 days (from February 11 to March 25). So Bach might have wished to leave his audience with something special, something they would remember for 41 days.
  3. If it is true that Andreas Stübel had been Bach’s librettist for his entire chorale cantata cycle, Bach would have now known that this was the last regular chorale cantata of the cycle for now: Stübel died on January 31, 1725. So perhaps Bach wanted to “go out with a bang” for that reason. It is striking to me that he chooses a bass recitative/arioso with trumpet talking about the Day of Judgement, a similar combination of voice, instrument, and subject matter he uses at the end of the Trinity period in 1723, and again (though less dramatically) at the end of the Trinity period in 1724. Is this Bach’s way of saying: this is the end of an important series?

Compared to all opening choruses that had come before, this opening chorus is the most complex and intricate. It is the same as chorale fantasias in previous chorale cantatas in the sense that the six lines of text of the chorale Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott appear in six sections, with the chorale melody (the cantus firmus) in the soprano and trumpet part.  However the orchestra greatly enhances the meaning of Bach’s message by referring to this chorale plus two others. The instrumental groups (recorders, oboes, strings, and continuo) represent four musical themes referring to these chorales. Eduard van Hengel illustrates this extremely well with two diagrams on his website, which I am copying here with his permission:


(a) The recorders play a dotted rhythm which in both the St. John and St. Matthew Passions illustrates punishment and suffering.
(b) The oboes introduce the “Leitmotiv” that will sound 78 times throughout the entire movement, and stands for the Herr Jesu Christ, wahr Mensch und Gott chorale. Jesus was a true (“wahr”) man and God. Probably Bach’s most important message here.
(c) The strings quote the chorale Christe, du Lamm Gottes, or Luther’s Agnus Dei. It would show up again in the opening chorus of the St. Matthew Passion, which Bach might already have been working on around this time, see my post about Cantata 125 last week.
(d) In the continuo we hear six times the first seven notes of Ach Herr mich armen Sünder, nowadays better known as O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, one of the main building stones of the St. Matthew Passion. In the seventh section of the opening chorus, when the sopranos are already done singing the chorale melody, Bach repeats this particular theme in the vocal bass line in the choir, as if to make sure that even those who might have missed the quotation earlier would now hear it loud and clear.

Van Hengel adds this extra diagram to show in which measures of the opening chorus the different themes appear:


At this point Bach might still have been planning to prepare his audiences for a first St. Matthew Passion, not abandoning that plan until much closer to March 30, Good Friday, 1725. Not only are the references in this opening chorus a striking example of that, but also in the extraordinary bass recitative/aria do we see the theme of the Sind Blitze, sind Donner chorus from the St. Matthew Passion appear on the text “Ich breche mit starker und helfender Hand.”

Regular followers of this blog will notice that Bach had been making a study for this bass recitative/aria in the previous three cantatas: combining lines of the chorale text with “free” text in the bass solo of Cantatas 92 and 125, and then using Sind Blitze, sind Donner material and trumpet accompaniment in the bass solo in Cantata 126.

Wieneke Gorter, February 10, 2018.

* Herreweghe’s album “Jesus, deine Passion” features cantatas 22, 23, 127, and 159. Cantata 23 has exceptionally beautiful choruses and Cantata 22 represents the first introduction of Bach’s version of the “Vox Christi”(voice of Christ) to the Leipzig congregations, considered by some as an intentional preparation for the listeners of what would be to come in the Passions.


Military bravura


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The Battle of Vienna, 1683

Two days after performing Cantata 125, Bach performed Cantata 126 Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort, on Sexagesima Sunday (the before-last Sunday before Lent), February 4, 1725.

My favorite recording of this cantata is the one by Harnoncourt, especially because of Thomas Thomaschke singing the bass aria. Find it here on YouTube.

Find the text of this Cantata 126 here, and the score here.

The two most striking elements of this cantata are the military trumpet in the opening chorus and the equally militant bass aria. It is all because of Luther’s chorale. When Luther wrote this, most probably around 1541/42, he was worried about the peace treaty (since 1536) between the Pope, France, and the Turkish troops that had by then advanced all the way to Vienna. Together Luther saw them as the antichrist and a threat to his Reformation.

In Bach’s time, the Turkish troops had been defeated (in 1683) and the ruler of Saxony was now Catholic. Thus the meaning of the chorale had changed, but Bach obviously still wanted to convey the military character of Luther’s original intent. And who knows, if Bach knew that his cycle of chorale cantatas was going to come to and end soon, he might have wanted to pull out all the stops.

Again we have a little glimpse of the St. Matthew Passion: Van Hengel says the bass aria “Stürze zu Boden” makes him think of the “Sind Blitze, sind Donner” chorus from the St. Matthew Passion and I completely agree.

Below are all the seven verses that were in the Dresdener Gesangbuch Bach and his librettist used and paraphrased. The two verses by Jonas were apparently added later than Walther’s, judging by Buxtehude’s setting of this chorale, which only uses Luther’s and Walther’s verses.

1. Erhalt uns Herr, bei deinem Wort,
und steur des Papsts und Türken Mord,
die Jesum Christum deinen Sohn,
wollen stürtzen von seinem Thron.

2.  Beweis dein Macht, Herr Jesu Christ,
der die Herr aller Herren bist,
Beschirm dein arme Christenheit,
das sie dich Lob in Ewigheit.

3. Gott, Heiliger Geist, du Tröster werth,
gib deim Volk einerlei Sinn auf Erd,
Steh bei uns in der letzten Not,
gleit uns ins Leben aus der Tod.


4. Ihr’ Anschlag’, Herr, zu Nichte mach,
laß sie treffen die böse Sach,
und stürz sie in die Grub hinein,
die sie machen den Christen dein.

5. So werden sie erkennen doch,
daß du, unser Gott, lebest noch,
und hilfst gewaltig deiner Schar,
die sich auf dich verlassen gar.


6. Verleih uns Frieden genädiglich,
Herr Gott, zu unsern Zeiten,
es ist doch ja kein ander nicht,
der für uns könnte streiten,
denn du, unser Gott, alleine.


7. Gib unsern Fürsten und aller Obrigkeit,
Fried und gut Regiment,
daß wir unter ihnen,
ein geruh’g und stilles Leben führen mögen,
in aller Gottseligkeit und Ehrbarkeit, Amen.

Wieneke Gorter, February 3, 2018.

Paintings, praises, and a possible prelude to the St. Matthew Passion


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“Adoration of the Magi” triptych of Jan Floreins by Hans Memling, 1479. Memling Museum (Old St. John’s Hospital), Bruges, Belgium. The right-hand panel features “The Presentation at the Temple,” with the Temple really being the former St. Donaas church in Bruges.

If you are reading this in the email you received from WordPress, please click on the title of this post to enjoy the paintings and the formatting 🙂

This post is almost two days late, as it was for Friday February 2, the feast of the Purification of Mary, or Candle Mass, or Presentation at the Temple. If you have time, please read how this holiday was strongly connected to folk culture in my post from last year. In Lutheran reality, this was the day when Simeon’s song of praise Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener in Friede fahren  or Nunc Dimittis was celebrated. With his chorale Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin Luther turned Simeon’s song of praise into a message of “Now I can die in peace.” This is why all five cantatas (The famous Ich habe genug 82, 83, 125, 157, and 158) Bach wrote for this holiday are mostly about the joy of dying.

Since I’m following Bach’s chorale cantata writing in Leipzig in 1725, I’m featuring Cantata 125 Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin, written for February 2 of that year, and based on that same chorale by Luther.

My favorite overall recording of this cantata is Herreweghe’s recording from 1998, with Ingeborg Dantz, alto; Mark Padmore, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass. You can find it here on YouTube. Please consider supporting the artists by purchasing the album on Amazon. It also includes the stunning Cantata 8 (Herreweghe’s personal favorite!) and the beautiful Cantata 138.

Please find the German text with English translations of this cantata here, and the score here.

There are some similarities with last week’s cantata, such as the bass solo that is made up of bits of recitative and bits of chorale melody, but already in the opening chorus a new day is dawning. If you read the history of today’s holiday in my post from last year, you know that Candle Mass was a natural time of year to start with something new.

Could the new inspiration in Bach’s brain be the St. Matthew Passion? It is not unlikely at all. Van Hengel suggests that the opening chorus has elements of the St. Matthew opening chorus, but then argues that that piece was not written yet in 1725. However, Gardiner (in his book Music in the Castle of Heaven) makes a strong case that Bach might have initially planned to have the St. Matthew Passion ready for Good Friday 1725. I’ve pointed out before that we can find preludes to the “Great Passion” in Bach’s cantatas as far back as the fall of 1723 (see posts about cantatas 105 and 46), so it is not unlikely that Bach was working on this in January 1725.

Keeping all this in mind, it is striking that the first aria after the opening chorus is an alto aria in St. Matthew style, full of pietism. Watch a very young Alex Potter (keep reading to find out more about him) sing this aria with the J.S. Bach Foundation here on YouTube. The instrumentation resembles the “Aus Liebe” soprano aria from the St. Matthew Passion: there are no organ chords in the bass, only repeated cello notes, and for the rest it is just flute and oboe da caccia, an unusual combination.

Because of the  many connections with this Cantata 125 I’m now going to sneak in a mini review of the Herreweghe/Collegium Vocale concerts I attended in Europe this past week.


Applause at the end of the concert in the Eglise St. Roch in Paris, January 30, 2018. From left to right in front row: Peter Kooij, Thomas Hobbs, Philippe Herreweghe, Alex Potter, Dorothee Mields. Photo by Aube Neau, published with permission.

Let’s take the alto aria from Cantata 125. I call this type of aria a “floating aria” because it has no real basso continuo: there is no melodic line in the cello or chords in the organ, i.e. no foundation for the singer to stand on. These floating arias are incredibly beautiful and the stuff of goose bumps, but also incredibly challenging for the vocal soloist. In the terrific concert in Paris on Tuesday January 30, soprano Dorothee Mields had two such arias: the “Qui tollis” from the Mass in A Major (BWV 234)* and the “Wir zittern und wanken” from Cantata 105. She did an absolutely marvelous job in both of them, but her singing was the most mesmerizing in the “Wir zittern und wanken” aria. Cantata 105 stood out during that Paris performance anyway in my humble opinion. It simply has the best opening chorus of all cantatas Collegium Vocale performed in the three concerts I attended. On top of that, the group (including soloists Thomas Hobbs and Peter Kooij) recorded this in 2012, and you could tell it was still in everyone’s bones and it was a pleasure to see Herreweghe direct the strings as well as the soloists. One of my favorite bass ariosos occurs in that cantata (it makes me think of the “Am Abend da es kühle war” from the St. Matthew) and Peter Kooij’s strong rendition almost made me cry.



Detail of right-hand wing of the “Adoration of the Magi” Jan  Floreins triptych by Hans Memling, showing the Presentation at the Temple, or Mary presenting Jesus to Simeon

And then on to countertenor Alex Potter. It was in Bruges’ St. John’s Hospital museum that I saw the Memling painting featured in this post, and this is also where I ran into Alex Potter and was able to tell him how much I enjoyed his singing on Friday January 26. During the concert in Paris on January 30 he even sang a soprano recitative, in that wonderful cantata 105, and did an excellent job at it. But his most impressive performance was the “Quoniam” aria from the Mass in A Major (BWV 234)**, which I heard in Bruges on Sunday January 28 and again in Paris on Tuesday January 30. He had a clear understanding of the text, made the music soar, and seemed to passionately enjoy what he was doing. It was a joy to watch and listen to.

Wieneke Gorter, February 3, 2018.

*originally from Cantata 179 from August 8, 1723.

**originally from Cantata 79 from October 31, 1725.

Blogging from Bruges


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I had the privilege of shaking hands with Philippe Herreweghe around midnight on Friday. It was pure coincidence, or serendipity, if you will* and he has no idea who I am, but it was a magical end to an already exciting day at the Bach Academy in Bruges, Belgium.

On that Friday I attended an informative and inspiring lecture by Bach expert Ignace Bossuyt during the day (more about that in a different post), heard a fabulous Bach cantata concert by Collegium Vocale/Herreweghe in the evening, and got to witness a very entertaining interview with Herreweghe late at night. The concert featured Cantatas 186 and 146. It was a feast to see Herreweghe at work, focusing on phrasing and text expression. It was also very enjoyable to experience the rich, well-blended string sound in the orchestra, the terrific oboe playing, the signature sound of the sopranos and altos of Collegium Vocale, and the wonderful work by all four soloists. Bass Peter Kooij stood out for his excellent diction and exquisite tone, tenor Thomas Hobbs for his stage presence and clear voice, and countertenor Alex Potter for his marvelous job in the “Ich und Du” aria from Cantata 146. As always I consider it a blessing to see and hear Dorothee Mields sing. The combination of the sound of her voice and her pronunciation and understanding of the text is something very special and beautiful to behold. I feel lucky that I will get to hear this group of musicians two more times this week: today (Sunday) again in Bruges, and Tuesday in Paris.


Time to talk about the cantata for today now: Cantata 92 Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn for Septuagesima Sunday (the third Sunday before Lent), first performed on Sunday January 28 in 1725. For this cantata, Bach had received an extremely long text from his librettist. We don’t know for sure who Bach’s librettist was at this time. Scholars believe it might have been Andreas Stübel, poet, theologian, and emeritus assistant principal of the St. Thomas School. If it was indeed Stübel, he would pass away on January 31, and might already have been ill around the time Bach was working on this Cantata 92. So while there normally might have been a discussion about the libretto between Bach and Stübel, this time Bach might have had to work with what he had.

The result is a creative but extremely long bass recitative (movement 2), and a rather long cantata in total: nine movements in all. Bach had created such lengthy cantatas at the start of his career in Leipzig, during the summer of 1723, but never before during this chorale cantata cycle of 1724/1725.

This Cantata 92 Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn contains arguably the most operatic tenor aria Bach ever wrote, even crazier than the aria from Cantata 81, an equally dramatic bass aria, and an absolutely lovely soprano aria. But what moves me the most in this cantata is the alto chorale with oboe accompaniment (movement 4). It gives me the good kind of stomach ache every time I hear it. On most recordings this chorale gets sung by all choir altos, not just the alto soloist.

Because I appreciate the bass soloist expressing the drama in his recitative and aria as much as the tenor does in his, my favorite “overall” recording of this cantata is the one by Bach Collegium Japan. Find my playlist here on Spotify. With Yukari Nonoshita, soprano; Jan Kobow, tenor; and Dominik Wörner, bass.

A good alternative on YouTube is Koopman’s recording of this cantata. With Deborah York, soprano; Paul Agnew, tenor; and Klaus Mertens, bass. I always love to hear Paul Agnew in operatic arias like this one.

Please find the text of Cantata 92 here, and the score here. And please consider supporting the artists by purchasing the recording you like best:

Bach Collegium Japan recording of Cantata 92 on Amazon

Koopman recording of Cantata 92 on Amazon


Wieneke Gorter, January 28, 2018.

* A friend and I were sitting in the back of a tiny cafe when Herreweghe and his wife walked in. He went over to greet some fans in the front of the restaurant, then sat down to eat. While I was contemplating what I would say to them later, once I would be on my way out of the restaurant, Herreweghe got up to use the restroom and walked right by our table. My friend asked him if he would welcome even more compliments, and then we shook hands with him and told him how much we had enjoyed the concert. It didn’t feel like the right time to tell him about my blog, and I was too star struck to think of mentioning that I would be attending two of his other concerts this week.




Third Sunday after Epiphany 1725


For this Sunday, the third after Epiphany in 1725, Bach wrote Cantata 111 Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit. 

In the church year, we have now arrived at the time where the Gospel reading talks about a new miracle every Sunday. Last week it was turning water into wine at the Marriage at Cana, this week it is about Jesus healing a leper. In my post from two years ago about cantatas 72 and 73, I explained what to Bach were the most important words from this Bible story:

Da er aber vom Berg herabging, folgte ihm viel Volks nach. Und siehe, ein Aussätziger kam und betete ihn an und sprach: Herr, so du willst, kannst du mich wohl reinigen. Und Jesus streckte seine Hand aus, rührte ihn an und sprach: Ich will’s tun; sei gereinigt!

(When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean. Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, I am willing; be cleansed.)

When, in 1725,  in the context of his chorale cantata cycle, Bach needed to find a chorale that would underline this theme, he found the perfect match in Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit, a chorale from 1547.

I’m sorry to say that I haven’t really found a satisfying recording of this cantata. At the beginning of this week I listened to many different recordings, and I was often unhappy with the tempo of the opening chorus, and sometimes also with the interpretation of one of the other movements.

So I’ll fall back on the Harnoncourt recording because I like the instrumental part of the opening chorus the best of all recordings I listened to. You can find that recording here on YouTube.

Find the text of Cantata 111 here, and the score here.

A very nice and unusual element in this cantata is the alto/tenor duet (movement 4). It doesn’t happen very often that Bach writes for this combination of voices. They walk happily, even if it is to the grave.  Note how the two voices are apart, written in canon (following each other) on most of the text, but together on the text zum Grabe führt (leads me to the grave).  To make sure that everyone really got the message that if it is God’s will, even death is blessed, Bach and his librettist stress it again in the soprano recitative.

Wieneke Gorter, January 21, 2018.



The Last Seven … Chorale Cantatas of 1725

On Sunday January 14, 1725, the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, Bach performed Cantata 3 Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid. I discussed this cantata in great detail two years ago, so I gladly refer you to that blog post. Even if you already read it at the time, you will hear this cantata in a new light, knowing a little bit more and/or having listened to the cantatas that came before this one in the 1724/1725 chorale cantata cycle. I also added a YouTube link and updated a few other links.

Around this time in 1725, Bach most likely intended to keep writing a new chorale cantata every Sunday until Trinity, according to the “system” he had started on June 11, 1724, so he would complete a full cycle of these.

But things would not go as planned, and he would write only six more chorale cantatas this year … Keep following this blog to find out what happened.

Coming up:

January 21: Cantata 111 Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit for the third Sunday after Epiphany

January 28: Cantata 92 Ich hab in Gottes Herz und Sinn for Septuagesima Sunday (the third Sunday before Lent)

January 31: would the sudden death of a friend change things for the immediate future?

Friday February 2: Cantata 125 Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin for the Purification of Mary / Presentation at the Temple

February 4: Cantata 126 Erhalt uns Herr bei deinem Wort for Sexagesima Sunday (the second Sunday before Lent)

February 11: Cantata 127 Herr Jesu Christ, wahr Mensch und Gott for Estomihi Sunday (the Sunday before Lent).

March 25: Cantata 1 Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern for the Annunciation of Mary.

There were no other cantatas during Lent (the 40 days before Easter). This period was considered a tempus clausum (“closed time”) for the churches in Leipzig, which meant no figural music during services, only chorale-singing. A good time for Bach to … take a break? Ha! he was most probably incapable of doing such a thing. He used this time to considerably revise his St. John Passion from last year, and write an entire Easter Oratorio.

Wieneke Gorter, January 10, 2018

Discovering a recycled aria

Dürer Jesus among the Doctors

Christ among the Doctors by Dürer, 1506. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain

It seems I have discovered something this week.

As far as I can tell, no other Bach scholar has ever pointed out that Bach recycled the 10-minute long, slow but impressive aria for tenor and flute from Cantata 114 (October 1, 1724), into a much faster paced, condensed piece of drama for tenor and oboe d’amore in Cantata 124 Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht for January 7, 1725.

This past October, I dedicated almost an entire post to that 10-minute long aria for tenor and flute. Listen to the aria here and read the post from October 7 here. The aria lived in my head for a long time after I wrote that post. I think it probably lived in Bach’s head longer: for the entire fall of 1724 and even into the Christmas season. Not even the timpani and trumpets of the New Year’s cantata would make it go way. He had to use it again, it was too beautiful for it to be only used once a year.

We don’t know. Perhaps Bach was simply a bit tired from all the composing, rehearsing, and performing of six cantatas in two weeks, and went looking for inspiration in his stack of previously composed cantatas.

There is a great live performance of Cantata 124 Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht by Solistenensemble Stimmkunst / Stiftsbarock Stuttgart on YouTube. Watch it/listen to it via the playlist I created to combine their four separate videos. Soloists are, in order of appearance: Thomas Meraner, oboe; Daniel Schreiber, tenor (movement 2); Andreas Weller, tenor (3); Matthias Horn, bass (4); Fanie Antonelou, soprano and Lena Sutor-Wernich, alto (5).

Find the German texts with English translations here, and the score here.

As I was listening to the tenor aria, I didn’t immediately realize it was based on the flute aria from Cantata 114. I just knew I had heard this music before, and I also was 100% certain the first line of text of the original had the word Jammertal in it*. I went searching for it online, but could not find it. So I decided to ask Eduard van Hengel. He emailed me back within a day, saying: “yes! BWV 114/2.” He has all Bach’s cantata librettos on his computer, so he could do a simple word search. Another result of Eduard’s word search: Jammertal shows up five times in Bach’s entire cantata oeuvre.

It is not so strange that Bach wanted to create a very dramatic tenor aria. He did the same on this Sunday one year earlier, in 1724, in Cantata 154. Learn more about that in my blog post from two years ago. It was all to illustrate the agony of Jesus’ parents when their teenage son didn’t think to tell them that he was going to stay behind in the Temple during their visit to Jerusalem.

Wieneke Gorter, January 6, 2018.

*This is usually how I find out about Bach’s recycling tricks, because I remember a word or two from the original text when I hear the recycled music. That is also how I realized that Bach might have been inspired by Telemann when writing Cantata 8.

Naming the baby six days late


The Adoration of the Magi by Lorenzo Monaco, 1420–1422. Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Today is the second anniversary of my Weekly Cantata blog! It all started with a broken dishwasher. Read my story on how this blog came to be here.

Bach must have been exhausted by this time in 1725, having performed six brand-new cantatas in one week, most of them twice a day, in the St. Thomas Church as well as the St. Nicholas Church. I assume he used his “time off” during Advent to work ahead to compose the cantatas, but how soon he had each of them ready and when he rehearsed them with choir and orchestra, we don’t know.

Still he stays fully committed to his (probably self-imposed) plan to write every cantata this 1724/1725 season as a chorale cantata.  For Epiphany (Three Kings Day, January 6) 1725 he composed the exquisite Cantata 123 Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen.

On New Year’s Day 1725 he didn’t refer at all to the usual theme for that day, the naming of Jesus. Thus I don’t think it is a coincidence that for today he chose a chorale that does refer to that story, it even has the name in the title: Immanuel. Having followed Bach’s chorale cantatas in the order they were created since June 18 last year, I am now extra moved by the instrumental “announcements” of the chorale melody in the opening chorus, played by the winds. The congregations in Leipzig, who knew their chorales very well, would have known what was coming by just hearing those few notes.

I already wrote about this Cantata 123 Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen in my very first post on this blog, so in the spirit of celebrating the second anniversary, I gladly refer you to that post, where you will also find updated links to recordings and texts.

Wieneke Gorter, January 2, 2017